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How Much Is My Ukelin Worth?
The Antiques Roadshow reviewed the ukelin! "Over the years we've been traveling around I've seen these in just about every city we've been to..." was how Kerry Keane of Skinner, Boston MA began. He gave a terse history including traveling salesmen and consumer dissatisfaction, and summed up by valuing the ukelin at $50, which included the instruction book, unhaired bow and tuning key. Will this finally settle how much the instrument is worth?
All I can tell is that due to the quantity currently on the market in second hand stores, antique shops, estate sales, flea markets, (eBay!) etc. versus the low demand, you do not have a valuable instrument on your hands. Its' value lies in Americana, curiosity and unique sound.
Let me state now that I do not do appraisals. Please don't send me descriptions of your instrument in hopes of figuring out how much your ukelin is worth. I will not answer.
However, I will say that I have seen ukelins selling for anywhere from $35 (the artificially inflated price listed on many original sound-hole stickers) to an unreasonable $300 and up. Ironically, the $300 ukelin was badly warped, faded and sitting in damaging sunlight on a hot top shelf. I've even seen one hopeful and misguided antique dealer price one around $500! From this we can glean that price oft-times gives little indication of quality.
As a side note, the reason ukelins still sometimes sell for the "$35 original asking price" printed inside the soundhole is that ukelins rarely if ever sold for this much. It was a marketing scheme, used to make the actual ukelin price seem like it was a special deal. Ukelins usually sold for half this amount or however much or little the ukelin salemen could bilk out of the public.
The ukelin is the most common of the "rare" instruments. I've heard ukelins called everything from civil war vintage to imported German to one-of-a-kind to medieval. One woman even claimed a ukelin was a priceless Stradivarious experiment. To be fair, I saw one ukelin so weathered it honestly looked decades, if not centuries older than it was. It had been found in someone's barn. While I find apocryphal ukelin histories entertaining, I must caution the buyer to beware. Please do not be taken in by outlandish claims. It seems the ukelin scandals are far from over.
Buyers should also beware a phenomenon I call Malepolylignebulumlectitis: the sickness of buying and/or hording too many stringed instruments. Yes, it can happen to you. And it's not pretty.
To return to the topic of value, it might interest you that a warehouse of ukelins was unearthed in Michigan and sold by the Elderly Music Co. for $50 each in the original cases. Unfortunately, these sold out, but that should give you some guide if you're wondering about your instrument's value.
(As a side note, folk singer Claudia Schmidt, Marx enthusiast and outstanding pianolin player, visited Mr. Marx's widow and found her in a house crammed full of various Marx creations.)
If you want a more precise appraisal of your instrument, try these sites:
Lark in the Morning Appraisals
American Society of Appraisers
Where can I buy or sell a ukelin?
I have been seeing ukelins, violin-ukes, Marx instruments and every kind of stringy-thingy selling for reasonable prices at the e-Bay auction site. New items are posted daily so check early and often.
Here's a short list of some of the many wonders to search for: Banjolin, Concert Zither, Bowed Zither, Guitar Zither, Hawaiian Art Violin, Hawaiiphone, Marxolin, Marxophone, Pianoette, Pianolin, Sol-o-lin, Tremoloa, Violin Uke. Happy bidding!
Bowed Psaltery Manufacturers and Distributors (in no particular order)
Lark In The Morning
Unicorn Strings Music Company
Folk Mote Music
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